Waiting in the Wings: Raising Expectations

July 11, 2012; Reading, PA USA; Bowie Baysox player Jonathan Schoop (46) runs to third base in the 6th inning during AA Eastern League All-Star game at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Eastern Division defeated the Western Division, 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

As a natural counterbalance to Tuesday's article, in which I chose several players as representatives of a type of player - that being one whose statistics overstate their case as a prospect - I am writing today about several players who represent the exact opposite - the prospect whose status is understated due to mild or misleading statistics. On to the examples.

Jon Schoop - INF - BAL - Schoop's 2012 season isn't pretty to look at from a numbers standpoint, as he posted a .245/.324/.386 slash line in Double-A. There's not a lot to build on there, until you realize that he spent the entire season in Bowie at 20-years old (21 in October), along with infield-mate and posterboy for this column Manny Machado. His slash line may be ugly, but it belies several improvements he made, as well as some bad luck he encountered. Schoop posted a .140 ISO in Double-A, an improvement on his anemic .104 ISO recorded in Hi-A in the second half of 2011, indicating a return to the power that scouts project for him. While his K% reverted back to 18% (similar to his 2010 campaign), he countered that with a career high BB% of 9%. While the jump in K% is concerning, it's not a number that's prohibitive of success, and to play as a 20-year old in Double-A and improve your walk rate is a trait worth noting. Schoop lived up to his billing as an advanced hitter despite the relatively low numbers by showing a good approach at the plate along with a solid contact rate. Even if he spent all of next year in Double-A, he would be considered young for the level, and his 2012 season shouldn't viewed through a statistical lens so much as a developmental one.

More after the jump...

Blake Swihart - C - BOS - Swihart, Boston's first round pick in 2011, has a rare package of tools. He's a switch-hitting catcher, with a plus projection on his hit tool and the possibility of average power down the line. The hype machine caught up to him when it was stated he had the "Buster Posey starter kit." So when he ends up with a full-season slash line of .262/.307/.395, the fans who bought the hype are going to be rather disappointed. Even age versus level doesn't explain everything as he played the season at Lo-A Greenville at 20 years of age. This isn't by any means old for the level, but it's not very young for it either. What is important though, is that he was considered raw on both offense and defense when drafted out of a New Mexico high school, and tallied an entire 6 professional at-bats coming into 2012. An assignment to Greenville was actually somewhat aggressive considering all this, and while the public's expectations might not have tempered, the Red Sox are likely fairly content with the season that Swihart gave them. He showed good bat control, striking out in 18% of his at bats, and an steady approach for such a raw player with a walk rate of just under 7%, all while making progress with his defense. While his numbers won't jump off the page at you, this was a successful season by all accounts, even if that success didn't manifest itself in the numbers.

Brian Goodwin - CF - WAS - Goodwin doesn't have the same issue with full season numbers that Schoop and Swihart did, of course he also wasn't young for his league for most of the year. He posted an impressive .324/.438/.542 slash line at Lo-A to begin 2012, so...why is he on this list exactly? It's a fair question, and the answer is that he's representative of a type of prospect that I want to discuss, and that is someone promoted at mid-season (or shortly thereafter) who proceeds to struggle after a dominating stint at their previous level. Goodwin struggled to the tune of a .223/.306/.373 slash line following his promotion, but there's a caveat there. He wasn't promoted just one level to Hi-A Potomac (presumably because the Nationals didn't want me seeing him, but actually because their field is a deathtrap), but instead was jumped all the way to Double-A, so as to avoid said deathtrap. At 21 years old, Goodwin was (say it with me now) young for his league (very nice). It's often said that the jump from Hi-A to Double-A is the second biggest jump, following that of Triple-A to the majors, so it goes without saying that Goodwin can be cut some slack for skipping straight to Double-A from Lo-A. He saw his BB% drop from a stellar 16.2% to a still acceptable 9.7%, and his K% soar from 14.7% to 26.9%. Again, that's to be expected given the jump in competition, as well as his age relative to that competition. The larger point here is that if one looked at his numbers with both levels combined, it would sit at .280/.384/.469 and really, that doesn't tell the whole story. Goodwin is a potential five-tool player, but he's a ways away from being that guy, and will require plenty of patience from both the Nationals and prospectors alike.

Shelby Miller - SP - STL - Miller is a big time prospect, and has been covered here and in other places ad nauseum. I'm not going to discuss his prospect status or his stuff right now, but I want to use him as an example of the prospect who has everything going wrong at some point in the year. Miller wasn't right to start the year, having lost too much weight and having lost his mechanics. He regrouped toward the end of July, and became the Shelby Miller we were all accustomed to seeing. The point here being that these are young kids, and they go through periods where they will look like a mess. Sometimes these are extended periods, but it's important to remember this doesn't have to affect their prospect status if they can rebound and show their original form at some point. While his full season numbers are ugly, Miller is every bit the prospect he was at the beginning of the season now that his mechanics are back and his stuff has returned. While it doesn't wholly apply to Miller, also keep in mind that younger players who haven't had a full season in the pros tend to tire out later in the year and can see a dip in the overall numbers as a result. Make sure to read the reports and note whether their swoon is a result of a long season or something else entirely.

Miguel Sano - 3B - MIN - I'm sure you're wondering just what in the hell Sano is doing on a list like this. After all, he's universally considered one of the top power prospects in the game, as well as one of the top third base prospects (assuming he can stick there, which he probably can't). Sano spent his age 19 season at Lo-A Beloit where he posted monster power numbers in the pitcher friendly Midwest League. However, his detractors will point to his .258 average and 26% whiff rate as causes for concern. While 26% is incredibly high, it's not surprising that someone with his power profile would sport a high strikeout rate, and what's more, his walk rate was a very impressive 14.5%. His .258 average is nothing to write home about, it's more than acceptable given his age relative to his competition. Obviously, Sano will continue to be ranked highly (he was Baseball America's #18 prospect before 2012), but it seemed like there was some backlash on Sano due to the whiff rate and if he would ever be more than a .250 hitter in the majors. When reading something like that, it's important to keep in mind that this is a 19 year old kid who could change as a prospect three times over before ever reaching the majors. He could sacrifice a little power for contact and become an absolute monster, or he could sell out for power and never reach the majors. We don't know what will happen going forward, and it's important to keep an open mind with these kids, especially when they're as young as Sano is. For what it's worth, Sano had a torrid August to raise his average to what it was, and we might well see that continue into next year in terms of contact ability.

There are surely a plethora of players who fit the premise of this article, but I chose these five as representations of types of players. When evaluating prospects in both real life and for your fantasy team, keep in mind that there is a lot more to the story than statistics. While statistics are a record of the events that took place, they don't tell us the development that has taken place within the prospect, and that's what is most important.

Source Material
Baseball America
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Reference
FanGraphs

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